Yes, there is a way to do it. With the laptop on and open, attach the external power and monitor. If you're planning on using a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, go into the Bluetooth preferences under "Advanced..." and check the box allowing Bluetooth devices to wake the computer and connect the Bluetooth devices.
Next, close the lid. This will put the computer to sleep. Once the computer is sleeping (the light pulsates, the fan stops) press a key on the Bluetooth keyboard or plug in a USB keyboard/mouse. This will wake the computer with the lid closed. After a few seconds it will figure out that the only screen it can use is the external screen, and you'll be good to go.
If you want to use the keyboard and trackpad of your MacBook instead of using an external keyboard/mouse, follow the steps above but instead of plugging in the USB keyboard/mouse, just plug any USB item in (iPhone, thumbdrive, etc). This will still wake the computer. Once it's woken up you can open the lid and use the keyboard and trackpad and the MacBook screen will still remain off.